by Katy Killilea

berries1PYO (pick you own) farms grant us the opportunity to hunt and choose and pick and amass baskets of lovely fresh food. Kids are great pickers. To some extent, the younger a child is, the better she’ll be: with a lower point of view, ripe gems other pickers miss are easier to spot. This is a fun way–for anyone with a sun hat and comfortable shoes–to spend a hunk of a summer day. This year at my local farm, PYO strawberry season came and went in a blur. But there are plenty more opportunities coming along to harvest an abundance, eat fistfuls of goodness and then make pie, jam, pickles, sauces…

If there’s a particular crop you want a heap of, plan ahead. Maybe even scribble a note on your calendar when your crop of choice is likely to be ready to pick. And although farmers can’t predict exactly when a crop will be ready, if your heart’s set on a bounty of a particular berry or vegetable, it’s worthwhile to become a bit of a farm stalker. Ask your farmer, and ask again. The timeline for some Rhode Island favorites goes like this:

STRAWBERRIES: part or all of June

PEAS: June and July

RASPBERRIES: mid June through mid July

BLACKBERRIES: mid July through mid August

WATERMELONS: mid July through August

BLUEBERRIES: mid July through mid Septemberchocolate-ice-crean

TOMATOES: July through early fall

PEACHES: mid July through early fall

PEARS: August through fall

APPLES: August through November

My favorite farms are Four Town Farm in Seekonk, because where else can you go from being in Target to being in a field of berries in under five minutes? And Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, because where else can you get Callebaut chocolate ice cream as a rejuvenating snack after your labors? In the fall, I love apple picking at Dame Farm in Johnston, for the beautiful apples, of course. And also for the cool mother-daughter duo running the place, and for the gigantic chocolate-caramel drizzle apples (you might recall this as an apple dessert first popularized during Rosie O’Donnell’s heyday, and some people might think they are passe for 2009, but they are, in fact, still awesome) which they make, wrap festively, and sell.

For a complete timeline for the harvest of every local crop you can name, look here. Farm Fresh Rhode Island also offers a comprehensive list of farms offering PYO by crop. Remember that farms offer PYO for a limited part of the harvest, when a crop is at its most abundant. What are you and your kids picking this year? Share your favorites with us. And happy picking!